RootsTech kicks off with 10-year celebration, London announcement

RootsTech 2020 kicked off Wednesday afternoon at the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City, Utah, with a celebration of its 10th year and a surprise: RootsTech London will happen again. 

Later that evening, more than 20,000 youth came to the RootsTech youth activity night and had a surprise of their own: the Young Women and Young Men general presidencies joined them.

Following the afternoon keynote from FamilySearch CEO Steve Rockwood on the events of the past decade and this year’s theme “Story of you,” RootsTech event manager Jen Allen joined the stage to announce the second RootsTech London.

About 10,000 people attended RootsTech London in October 2019 — which surpassed all expectations, Allen said.

The 2020 conference will be held Nov. 5-7 in the ExCel Convention Center.

“We hope you all join us, and registration is now open,” Allen told the excited audience, who broke into a roaring applause. 

RootsTech event manager Jen Allen, middle, announces RootsTech London will happen again, as she speaks on the main stage of RootsTech in Salt Lake City on Feb. 26.
RootsTech event manager Jen Allen, middle, announces RootsTech London will happen again, as she speaks on the main stage of RootsTech in Salt Lake City on Feb. 26. Credit: Sydney Walker

The growth of RootsTech would not be possible without the constant support of genealogists and technologists, Rockwood said during his address. “We’re not here to celebrate RootsTech. We’re here to celebrate you.”

A look back at 10 years of RootsTech

Since RootsTech’s humble beginnings in Salt Lake City in 2011, the number of attendees has grown by 10 times — from 3,000 to 30,000 in 2019 — with growing interest from archivists, government officials and commercial partners. 

And what started out as an experiment with 40 classes and 59 exhibitors now boasts 300 classes and 180 vendors and exhibitors at this year’s conference. Those registered for RootsTech 2020 come from 49 states and 55 countries — the most global representation yet. 

The impact of RootsTech far exceeds those who attend in Salt Lake City. In fact, more than 120,000 streamed sessions online during RootsTech 2019. 

“We’re getting to that point where the RootsTech audience in Salt Lake is the studio audience,” said Rockwood in an interview prior to the event. 

“It’s an ever-expanding audience, and we manifested that last year when we were able to actually take RootsTech to London.”

Read more: The big picture of how London is the gateway for RootsTech’s global reach

Reflecting on 10 years of RootsTech, Rockwood said, “We stand on the shoulders of those who preceded us. …. We think that the future has never been brighter.”

RootsTech London attendees fill the London ExCel exhibition hall on Thursday, Oct 24, 2019.
RootsTech London attendees fill the London ExCel exhibition hall on Thursday, Oct 24, 2019. Credit: Scott Taylor

The conference has continued to evolve each year with what is learned. RootsTech over the years has expanded to involve people of all skill levels and ages, including children, youth, young adults and families. 

“It’s our charge at FamilySearch to make sure that all means all,” Rockwood said. “And therefore, we need to make sure that all of God’s children, no matter where they live and no matter where their families are from, can discover, gather and connect their families.”

RootsTech is a metaphor for how the industry continues to grow, Rockwood said. “And we always ask ourselves at each RootsTech, ‘Who is not at the table yet? Who still needs to enjoy this?’”

RootsTech sponsors and partners since 2011.
RootsTech sponsors and partners since 2011. Credit: Church News graphic

Ellen Thompson-Jennings, of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, remembers the 2011 RootsTech conference well. And she has come back for every RootsTech since — making her one of few who have attended all 10 years. 

“It was just a small portion of the Salt Palace and now it’s the entire Salt Palace,” she said of the event’s growth. 

A volunteer helps a participant check in for RootsTech, held Feb. 26-29 in the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City, Utah.
A volunteer helps a participant check in for RootsTech, held Feb. 26-29 in the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City, Utah. Credit: Courtesy RootsTech

The first conference focused on technology and genealogy coming together. “This was all so new at the time,” she said. “I’d been doing genealogy for quite a while and I started when I was a teenger. But it was just so amazing. I’d never been to anything like this.”

Now, 10 years later, she says her favorite part about RootsTech hasn’t changed: “It’s so fun to come here and meet people that like what you like … and know what you’re all about.”

A video was shown during Rockwood’s address of memorable speakers throughout the past 10 years, including First Lady Laura Bush, performer Donny Osmond, Olympian Scott Hamilton, Ree Drummond (Pioneer Woman), Stephanie Nielson (NieNie Dialogues), singer Natalia LaFourcade and Saroo Brierley (subject of the movie “Lion”).

Prominent speakers at RootsTech.
Prominent speakers at RootsTech. Credit: Church News graphic
RootsTech themes and memorable moments since 2011.
RootsTech themes and memorable moments since 2011. Credit: Church News graphic

While highlighting the theme “Story of you,” Rockwood shared how his family is preserving the memories of his mother, Grandma Marion, using Instagram. “Who are the Grandma Marions in your life?” he asked, then inviting the audience to capture stories in “normal, natural ways.”